It may seem like firing a poorly performing employee would be cut and dried. But when that employee belongs to a protected class and feels they were discriminated against, things get tricky.
One company recently landed in court because of that. Here’s a breakdown of the case.
Refused to follow directions
Hilary Grubbs worked as a mold setter for Grote Industries in Indiana. She was the only female member of her crew.
Grubbs began having issues with her supervisor. He suspended her after she failed to follow some of his instructions and went against procedure. Things got worse when the supervisor tried to correct Grubbs. She laughed in his face and once again refused to comply with his directions. Due to her insubordination, Grubbs was fired.
But Grubbs didn’t believe she was fired for her performance. She denied laughing at her supervisor and being insubordinate, instead claiming he misunderstood a joke she made.
Grubbs thought she was fired for being a woman. Her boss’s boss allegedly made a comment calling her a “troublemaker,” and another employee told Grubbs she thought the boss was sexist.
Grubbs sued Grote Industries for gender discrimination.
No reference to gender
The district court sided with the company. It said the “troublesome” comment didn’t reference Grubb’s gender, and instead seemed to reference her insubordination. The only mention of sexism came from Grubbs’ co-worker calling the one boss sexist — someone who wasn’t even Grubbs’ direct supervisor or responsible for her firing.
Grubbs’ claim was also denied because she couldn’t prove her male counterparts received preferential treatment. None of them refused to follow directions like Grubbs, so no equal comparison could be made.
The company came out on top, and this case offers some important reminders. Always document when employees make mistakes or are insubordinate, and follow disciplinary policies consistently so no one can claim they were treated unfairly.